Sunday, November 29, 2009
  Is it is the last word that matters: Jim W on Google Wave
Jim W has experienced Google Wave, unlike the rest of us he has had time to explore (how does the man ever find the time?) and decided it's OK, but not too special...

I wonder, Jim may be right:
It’s an excellent tool for collaborative work among groups... Other than that, though, I am not quite convinced that it’s all that revolutionary or useful.
Photo by brewbooks
But then he admits that as more people use it its usefulness may change. His final word on the subject (in this post ;) was "yet". That may well be the key, when/if Wave becomes as ubiquitous as email was in the 90s it may take off as email has, and reach a whole new level of importance. Before that, email was useful, but no one regarded it as vital. Now, imagine life without email!

My take on Wave? I still don't know I've had too little time to look and feel, but I suspect it may be the killer app, the thing that takes us to a new level and enters our lives like email has, but not yet!

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Saturday, November 28, 2009
  Degrees of presence V: Works I should have cited and didn't
AKMA in his comment drew my attention to his reflections on presence I should have Googled his blog earlier, there's at least a really interesting reflection from Saturday, February 09, 2002, and the piece from 2006 Plus Ça Change that ended with a facscinating paragraph:
Of course, the church has been trying to think through the importance of non-spatial identities for centuries, which helps explain my confidence that a theologian’s perspective can contribute to the discussion. All along, people’s identities have been constituted by the memories, links, knowledge, and patterns that they share (or not) with the rest of the world; in our digital environment, those aspects of identity come to the fore. Let’s not shackle them to simulated spatiality, but instead let’s seek out a way to work with identity in ways indigenous to a non-spatial identity ecology.
Photo from Brownblog
Forgetting simulated spatiality, which is only an issue in distance education for the goofs who are using second life to mimic classrooms, ARE there ways in which non-spatial identity or presence have a distinctly different ecology? or Are we merely talking about different media of communication? Does the absence of smell (to take the most evident example of a difference in mediation between physical and distance modes) REALLY make a qualitative difference?

Then (not temporarily since I am mentioning the items out of order, or rfather in my own chosen order), when having talked about the AKMAs his physical presence might with varying degrees of falsity bring to mind in someone experiencing his presence:
a tweedy academic in a town overrun with tweedy academics or a visibly-identifiable priest (at a cultural moment when any given (male) priest bears the suspicion that he has done horrible things to children)
He concluded talking about:
[a] new, freshly ambiguated zone between full physical presence (and I've learned enough from my postmodern studies to doubt the obviousness of "presence") on one hand and merely-verbal communicative absence (on the other) that we wrestle with the messages that come to us from we-know-not-exactly-where. As we learn how to live appropriately, I might say "authentically" to bring us back around to the topic we were talking about when I first met many of you, under these unfamiliar conditions, we will find neither that "religion" is passé, nor that we are truly immaterial beings trapped in decaying flesh, but that there's more to cyberplace than just immaterial or physical existence, more even than we have dreamed of.
I am again left wondering if the different mediation of "cyberspace" is not more significant than the "cyberspace" idea suggests, and therefore the difference in "presence" less significant...

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Friday, November 27, 2009
  On being a fish out of water
Travel (especially travel without companions, since being alone encourages introspection even in the least self-reflective) prompts one to consider one's place in the world. I don't fit here. How don't I fit? Why do I not fit?

I've commented in a previous post on one (of the many) little reasons that I find in the USA a lack of fit, I'm a coffee snob, US coffee is bitter and far too plentiful, it is 'never mind the quality feel the width' coffee ;) I'm also a poor "fit" in the USA because I am a poor tipper, I neither know how to tip, nor do I understand deep in my bones the need to tip. If someone is doing a job they should be paid to do that job. If they are doing a kindness then they don't want to be paid. But it does not work like that in the USA, the US is like Africa or Thailand or most other parts of the world except NZ, people in service industries live on tips.
Now I'm returning to the land of my birth. The first thirty years of my life were spent in the UK, my ancestors (pretty much all of them as far as I know) lived in these islands in the North Atlantic since before 1199. But in today's UK I am a stranger, I don't know how things work, some basics of life are complex, the culture is somewhat strange. In short, life is harder work than "at home".

This estrangement of my homeland began when we were in Africa, mainly then it was the shops with full shelves, the relentless busyness and pursuit of things, that became strange. A deeply secular materialism that contrasted with a Congolese world, full of personality and powers. Now it's more the dirtiness, busyness and crowds. For though Kiwis are ardent materialists, they relate, and do not as vehemently exclude the others who surround them - except perhaps on Auckland public transport ;)
Panderichthys on Wikipedia
And yet... a migrant, even a voluntary, self-selected, happy immigrant is a fish out of water. I may have been happy to live and work in NZ for 17 years, I may have been a citizen for over a decade, when someone at SBL asked "So you'll retire in NZ then?" my unspoken response may have been "Duh! Where else?", but yet as all immigrants are, I am a fish out of water in some things. The rugged Kiwi individualism, product no doubt of the pioneer spirit, and boosted by the myth of No.8 wire and the can do attitude it endorses, is somewhat strange to a well-socialised Pom, especially one who was earlier and first a migrant worker in Congo ;) In particular the deep rooted belief in Kiwi culture that "It is better to ask forgiveness than permission." Is one my bones and sinews will never understand.

Again, it's not that I disapprove of this approach to life, actually I rather like it, but it is not my default. As a good Afro-Englishman I wait to be asked. Fatal in a forgiveness not permission culture. Fish out of water - still it was fish that crawled out of the sea that (according to evolutionary biologists) were the ancestors of every mammal you see, successful little beasts fish out of water ;)

  Degrees of Presence IV: My experience
I have already mentioned the striking presence some students presented to each other in the blog assignment. This kind of experience has been often repeated, though not with quite that dramatic intensity. Such assignments which force students to interact with each other's thought, and not merely with that of unknown "scholars" who (despite being named in the heading, and sometimes being easily Googleable) remain somehow "anonymous", impersonal, to most students, who do not read enough to pick up the peculiar tone and voice of individual scholars. (Is it just good-old-days-ism or did we really read more and more intensely?)

I have also repeatedly (though sadly only in private communication not often in the more public forum of "Student Evaluations" of courses and teaching :( noted with pleasure the positive comments students make about my quick response to emails, and discussion forum posts. Several of these comments have been phrased in ways that make it clear that a greater sense of "presence" is generated and supported by this promptitude. Interestingly the student's own presence in the class seems reinforced in this way as well as the presence of a teacher in the class.
Photo by Ed Yourdon
Then this semester I used Adobe Connect to provide a "meeting room" in which I could conduct "distant tutorials". The software allows two way (or indeed multi-way) audio communication, live text messaging either to the group or privately to a selected individual, sharing of screens and programs as well as computerised whiteboard. The idea was to mimic the face to face tutorials in which we led on-site students through the practice of biblical interpretation.

The weekly Connect tutorials were supplemented and supported by other (asynchronous) online interaction: forums, exercises, online tests etc... This is an element of the course that needs more work and to be better done next year. But apart from that, with respect to distant tutorials what did I learn about  generating and nurturing "presence" at a distance?

Microphones: it makes a huge difference when most students have mics that work. Comparing a class where most have the ability to talk aloud with one were only a few have this capacity the difference is huge. (At least for me as teacher, I'd need to do some research to discover if the students' perceptions match mine.) Text messaging, in this multi-medium environment, is great as a back channel, but acts as an inhibitor of "presence" when used instead of voice as the main communication medium.

Multitasking: the multiple channels (voice, screen, whiteboard and text) combined with all the technical issues that need to be resolved, on top of the pedagogical responsiveness needed mean that having one "presenter" is not ideal. Often I was less present, or less effectively present (again targeted research would be needed to be sure which), than was optimally possible.

Task oriented: because it was the first time (apart from a couple of "practice" sessions) I had used the medium, and because I was aware that colleagues would be judging the utility of "virtual meeting" tools like connect to a significant degree based on how students performed in this class, I was too focused on the task. When the speaker is thinking more about the "content" than the communication presence suffers, and the interactive medium becomes more like a video lecture :( Fear of failure has much the same effect on many presenters at academic conferences, as I discovered afresh in a few gabbled sessions at SBL over the last few days - though in the room those presenters were hardly present for me, and I wish I had not been present for them ;)
Failure to encourage “social” contact: (probably one to file under Duh!) related to the above task orientation, I failed to realise that I should make more effort (in a relatively - at least compared with a face to face tutorial) impoverished media environment to generate mutual presence. We should have "wasted" more time on chitchat. By the end of the semester we did at least use the minutes while everyone collected in that way (at the start I am ashamed to note I was too busy with the technology to make small talk).

Despite these teething problems several students have already (without being asked) commented on the richer experience this richer medium permitted, and among these comments some already have chosen particularly to mention terms that relate to "presence" to describe the benefits they experienced compared with a "standard" distance course.

PS: I have not looked at the issues or research around "communities of inquiry" in this series because my goal is not to change the pedagogy we use radically - even if I am convinced such a change is desirable - but to explore the concept of "presence" and how it is experienced in teaching and learning at a distance.

List of works cited in this series so far

Garrison, D. Randy. 1997. Computer conferencing and distance education: cognitive and social presence issues. In , ed. International Council for Distance Education . Pennsylvania State University.

Richardson, Jennifer C., and Karen Swan. 2003. Examining Social Presence in Online Courses in Relation to Students' Percieved Learning and Satisfaction. Sloan Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 7, no. 1: 74.

Shatzer, Milton J., and Thomas R. Lindlof. 1998. Media Ethnography in Virtual Space: Strategies, Limits, and Possibilities. Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media 42, no. 2: 170-89.

Short, John, Ederyn Williams, and Bruce Christie. 1976. The social psychology of telecommunications. London u.a: Wiley.

Short, John. 1972. Medium of communication and consensus. Lond.: Long Range Intelligence Division of Post Office Telecommunications Headquarters.

Short, John., Joint Unit for Planning Research. Communications Studies Group., and Great Britain. Post Office. Long Range Intelligence Division. 1973. The effects of medium of communication on persuasion, bargaining and perceptions of the other. Long range research paper, 50. London: British Post Office.

Stacey, Elizabeth. 2002. Social Presence Online: Networking Learners at a Distance. In , ed. Deryn Watson and Jane Andersen, 39-48. Springer, August 31.

Wheeler, Steve. 2005. Creating Social Presence in Digital Learning Environments: A Presence of Mind? In Learning Technologies 2005 Conference: Combined Presence. Queensland.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009
  I'm a Kiwi coffee snob
Image from Wikimedia
Americans are crazy. The average American seems to drink more coffee in a day than the most addicited Kiwi in a week, but it is rubbish. Then this morning I read this post on Lifehacker, the teaser promised: "Cheap Coffee" so I followed the link...

It is all about Instant Coffee and some horrendously expensive mug that lets you drink more of the stuff :( Does anyone know if I can get a cup of good (or even halfway good) espresso in the USA, well actually today in New Orleans city centre to be specific?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009
  Degrees of presence III: Research findings
Frustration! by basykes
Duh! That's what I should have done first (if you don't know what "that" is you could read the previous post Degrees of Presence II: the backstory) after working some while on my circular rotating device for easier locomotion I consulted the literature and found a body of research on the topic of "social presence". (I am unclear still why the qualification "social" is needed, surely presence that is non-social is what I'd mean by non-presence!?) The key canonical text is Short, Williams and Christie (1976).

They defined social presence as a communicator’s sense of awareness of the presence of an interaction partner. This seminal work came out of research sponsored by the British Post Office in the 1970s (John. Short 1972; John. Short, Joint Unit for Planning Research. Communications Studies Group., and Great Britain. Post Office. Long Range Intelligence Division. 1973)⁠ If this sponsorship puzzles you think of the then growing ubiquity and use of telephones - yes, landlines mobiles were not yet invented, except on Get Smart ;) As well as providing the dominant definition they also noted that the social effects of a medium are principally caused by the degree of social presence it affords. ⁠

This concept of "social presence" is significant for the processes by which we come to know and relate to others (John Short, Williams, and Christie 1976)⁠. So better person perception and more meaningful interactions are a result of increases SP. If SP is low group members feel disconnected, but when it is high they are more engaged and involved. Stacey emphasises the role of the teacher in distance education as facilitator of such presence. (Stacey 2002)⁠

[Another influential strand in this involved a redefining of Social presence as “the degree to which participants are able to project themselves affectively within the medium.”, thereby presenting themselves as 'real people.' (Garrison 1997)⁠ But I have not yet worked through whether I find this shift a helpful one.]

The cues we use to build our sense of the social presence of another, or to consciously or unconsciously project our own vary dramatically in different communications media.

  • text-based media like email and discussion forums - use “tone”, emoticons, self disclosing narratives
  • audio adds inflection, ambient sound, paraverbal utterances ("Uh huh" in various inflections, or the sound of a students toddler playing as she attends class - the single mother not the toddler ;)
  • video – adds visual cues
This list (or one like it) has been argued to be a hierarchy, which given its additive nature has face validity (Shatzer and Lindlof 1998)⁠

Yet before we rush to assume higher in the hierarchy (or lower in my listing ;) means better we should pause to consider more anecdotal and research evidence, that suggests different students respond very differently to different media. Some students love email, others require a phone call to really feel they have been in contact with the teacher (social presence).

Wheeler studied how different styles of being a student interact differently with different media. (Wheeler 2005) Using Entwistle's Approaches to Study Inventory he distinguished students into three groups. Like but perhaps distinguishable from Entwistle's three learning styles: autonomy, surface and tenacity. (p.6)

For my presentation I'll ignore the surface learners. They are the ones I try to convert to one of the other types ;)

In a natural co-present learning space (face to face) his autonomous students,
(due to their independence?), neither need nor experience a great deal of
social presence. Tenacious students, conversely, tend to experience high levels
of social presence. But when telephone is the medium of communication the effect is reversed, autonomous students perceive higher levels of connectedness. Using e-mail too students scoring higher on autonomy perceive less social presence (perhaps because “not in control”?), whilst more tenacious students experience higher perceptions of connectedness. He notes the special affordances of e-mail as a less immediate, but more permanent medium. These may fit also with the known liking for e-mail of the introverted, and an often expressed frustration with e-mail among more extroverted colleagues ;)

Mark N added in a comment on the previous post that there is also a literature around "transactional distance" that I must explore too. Second "duh" moment, I should have picked his brains first, still I will now have two wheels, and they do say that we only really learn what we discover for ourselves ;)

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  Degrees of Presence II: the backstory
Begging Boy - Agra, India by gregor_y
Discussions on "distance education" (the term is often a misnomer since I have had students living or working closer to the on-site classroom than my home is ;) often get bogged down in primitive notions of "presence". The idea of distance skeptics seems to be that we are only "really" present to each other when in the same room. This is evident nonsense. If Barbara and I are in the same room but she is playing Facebook Scrabble I will be lucky to get a sensible reply to any question I ask. If I am reading a book she will get one of those male grunts that merely means "I think I heard that you said something - but I have no idea what." We are virtually non-present to each other, though in the same room. By contrast if we are talking on the phione about some concern over one of the children, even though in different cities we are highly mutually present.

So, I got thinking about degrees and sorts of "presence" in online education. I remember vividly a long "conversation" between two students in the first class in which I used a blog assignment. Student A began from the position that anyone who was poor was poor because they were lazy, shiftless or anti-social. Student B was living in Thailand. B wrote about his family, a young son who saw a boy his own age "selling" flowers as a sort of respectable begging, and his boy's sympathetic response on learning more about the situation. Gradually over a couple of weeks A's attitudes changed and mellowed. He'll never be a bleeding-heart liberal, but the two students impacted each others' lives and were evidently and richly mutually present.

That got me exploring the research literature on the subject... (which will come in part III: Research findings).

Karyn Traphagen has posted about her presentation Taking the Distance Out of Distance Education to the SBL session: 22-201 Academic Teaching and Biblical Studies: Distance Learning: How to teach traditional topics in a non-traditional format. Here is a link to my notes.

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Monday, November 23, 2009
  Degrees of Presence
This post is primarily for anyone who was at the SBL session this afternoon where I presented, I will later blog this material properly. Here is a link to my notes. I will post here in a few days the key ideas from the presentation, but now I am off to the Wabash reception ;)

Sunday, November 22, 2009
  David Clines' SBL Presidential Address
It's almost the first time I've attended an SBL presidential address. I know I'm (getting) old, it's the first time I've known and respected an SBL president as more than a name on some papers and books (usually ones I have not read).

DJA Clines is an iconoclast, I vividly remember the time I met him, SBL International in Jerusalem in '86. He was sharing a room with Robert Carroll, one of my few friends from Glasgow, and a guru I admired, but never tried to follow. I had the room next door. (The rich occupied the flash SBL hotels in town, the creative, the European and waifs like me occupied student accommodation at the Hebrew University.)

It was at that SBL International (or at the IOSOTS that accompanied it) that David met Heather, but I remember it more for one phrase. I think it was Clines' but it could have been Carroll's. I've Googled it, but could find no attribution (if you try that NOW, Google leads to me, but I know I did not invent the phrase - I just wish I had). That phrase, picked up from whichever intellectual nomad from the neighbouring room actually coined it, has guided, or at least served as Leitmotiv for two decades of (my) biblical study.

But back, from senescent ramblings about times past, to David's presidential address, David is an iconoclast, and his address topples many cherished icons of the academic world: the dichotomy of teaching and research, and the primacy of the latter, the modes of teaching, the hierachy of teacher and student... David is an entertaining speaker, and most of us chuckled and a few even dared to laugh... David is a prophet, and his address may even (like Muillenberg's in 1968, an SBL even I am too old to have attended) provide a stimulus for years to come... But is was not NEW. And there's the tragedy, Biblical Scholars are still not listening to other disciplines, we "borrow", occasionally, an unfamiliar notion torn from its context (preferably non-Anglophone) in Psychology (especially the esoteric and academically dubious fringes of Psychology) or Literary Studies for these can provide the dillettant biblical scholar with a neat paper for many sections in the SBL program guide, but we systematically turn our backs on the professionals. Professionals in teaching above all ;)

And that may be the truly iconoclastic element in DJA Clines' SBL presidential addesss in 2009. If he stimulates a few younger scholars to toy with the ideas of teaching theorists and researchers as he once stimulated me to toy with ideas of the unnecessary "hypothesis of the idiot redactor" then thank God for SBL Presidents!

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009
  Twitter a survey
Lifehacker recently ran a survey on Twitter. Interestingly, for a fairly techie blog full of early and enthusiastic adopters, especially given Twitter's apparent cult status among the trendy Digerati. About half (47%) of respondants to the poll have no inclination to twit.
Twitter is
a waste of time
less than passionately interesting
mildly interesting
really significant
the best thing since the previous best thing
my life, my soul, my all free polls

This fits my reaction, unlike other trendy tools I have found potentially interesting and explored (for a recent example take Google's Wave) or tried to explore but given up on (like Second Life), I have never been able to imagine the point of Twitter!

I would be interested to know though whether my readers and their readers have a similarly large number of Twitagnostics, or whether "we" have more Twitter-gnostics ;)

So please vote in the poll here, and/or link to it ( so your readers (at least if they are in the biblical studies and related disciplines whether as professionals or amateurs ;) can vote.

You will see from the questions that this is not entirely serious and scientific, but either by polling or by comments I really would be interested to hear what you all think :)

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Sunday, November 15, 2009
  PG Wodehouse novel in Librivox audio
Wodehouse in 1904 (aged 23) from Wikipedia
Along with all the marking and paper preparation getting ready for leaving for SBL I have finished my latest Livrivox project. An early PG Wodehouse novel, Uneasy Money, pure escapism!

Uneasy Money is a romantic comedy by P.G. Wodehouse, published during the First World War, it offers light escapism. More romantic but only a little less humorous that his mature works, it tells of the vicissitudes of poor Lord Dawlish, who inherits five million dollars, but becomes a serially disappointed groom.

When the story opens Bill (Lord Dawlish, a thoroughly pleasant man) is engaged to a demanding actress. His first thought when hearing of his massive legacy from a stranger whose tendency to slice he once cured on a West Country golf course is of the disappointed relatives. His trip to the USA attempting to give back the windfall results in complication after complication, including firearms and burglaries as well as the usual human misunderstandings that accompany any human life.

Uneasy Money was first published as a serial in the Saturday Evening Post in the USA from December 1915, and in the UK in Strand Magazine starting December 1916. It first appeared in book form on March 17, 1916 by D. Appleton & Co., New York, and later in the UK (on October 4, 1917) by Methuen & Co., London.

A silent, black-and-white film version was made in 1918.

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Saturday, November 14, 2009
  Google Wave and PodBible
Since I saw the promo video I've been keen to see if Google Wave could be the tool we are looking for to encourage people who listen to PodBible to begin to share their responses to the biblical texts to which they listen. Once I'd hoped Facebook would be the tool, but it does not seem to be. It works fine for quick easy relatively trivial communication but does not seem good at extended conversations. Email is good at those, but only good for small groups who want to read the conversation as it grows. Discussion forums are good for such prolongued discussion, but can seem somewhat disconnected and impersonal (no one knows you are a dog on the Internet ;)

I have just received my invitation to Wave :) so if you like PodBible and would be interested in helping me to explore Wave with a view to using it to get conversation and prayer going around the chapters please email me and I might use one of my eight invitations for you. If you are already "on Wave" please also let me know so I can add oyu as a contact (since I do not use Gmail it could not open my contacts automatically :(

  Gerasene biblical interpretation
Photo by FilmNut
I have just been marking the final assignment for our introductory course on Understanding and Interpreting the Bible. We used Duvall and Hays book as the core and basis of the course (bibliographical details below). They picture the process of interpreting the Bible today in terms of four (or five for the Old Testament) simple steps:
  1. The text in their town - what the text meant and/or was intended to mean or do in its ancient context(s). The outcome of this phase should be a short summmary couched in the past tense e.g. Paul exhorted his hearers to..., Jesus challenged the Pharisees... or Luke encouraged Gentile believers...
  2. Measure the width of the river - encourages interpreters to notice and take account of the barriers time and space have erected which interfere with our capacity to read and understand the text. In the course we stressed this, and noticed time and again the tendency, deeply engrained in Evangelical Christians, to seek to apply the Bible without thinking.
  3. Uncover the principle - religious discourses usually are either based on or give expression to theological principles, unlike the message of a passage (which is time-bound and specific) these are timeless and general.
  4. For the OT: consider the passage through the lens of Jesus and the NT. If Christians believe that Jesus fulfills the OT then this step may well qualify their understanding of passages from the Hebrew Bible.
  5. Apply the passage. Unlike the principle, but mirroring the message these will be specific, and they should be multiple. Both the specificity and multiplicity together help people to then generalise the application to their own lives - generalised applications usually leave their consumers merely with vague good or bad feelings but called to no specific actions.
Photo by digitalART2
We had reminded the class of these steps each week, and practised them most weeks. As well as looking in more detail at how to study the expression of the text, its literary and historico-social contexts and how various Gattungen of biblical literature work.

Doing this marking I have been forced to notice that (at least among NZ Evangelicals) the default response to a first reading of a biblical text is to draw a pious vaguye general "application". This process is like applying a bandaid, quick and easy and painful to dislodge. It is also like a band aid, easier when it is thin - verses are easier to "apply" than narratives.

The result is that faced with the wide and deep "river" that separates us from the authors and hearers of the Bible, we instantly run full tilt down the hill and throw ourselves at the river.

Hence my title, because of this Gerasene tendency (Mark 5:13) many Bible interpreters end up face down in deep water!

Duvall, J. Scott, and J Daniel Hays. Grasping God's word : a hands-on approach to reading, interpreting, and applying the Bible. Grand Rapids Mich.: Zondervan, 2001.

Duvall, J. Scott, and J Daniel Hays. Journey into God's word : your guide to understanding and applying the Bible. Grand Rapids Mich.: Zondervan, 2008.

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Thursday, November 12, 2009
  Villa Maria food and wine matching evening
Last night B and I attended a magnificent food and wine matching evening at Villa Maria. The food was by Ruth Pretty (who also provided commentary on her choices and decisions) and the wine by Vidal (was commented by their champion winemaker Hugh Crichton). Paul Holmes presented his olive oils and was also a sponsor of the evening. Since the last fortnight has been hard, with pain and then discovering a hacker attack on my websites before the letdown over my accommodation for SBL all on top of a busy marking schedule such a break was well timed :)

The evening began with Grilled Scampi Tails with Lime Wasabi Dressing and Karengo Fronds and also Blini with Smoked Salmon and Herbed Cream Cheese as nibbles matched with Vidal Estate Marlborough Riesling 2009 while people gathered. The food was delicious and more understated than the description suggests, the wine delicious and already fairly well balanced, though I think I'd prefer it when the acid has had more time to mellow. (The horse whose mouth I am examining over-critically was not a gift, since we paid for the invitation ;) though it does seem unfair to criticise a gold medal wine for being too young it was a little ironic since Hugh Chrighton at one stage expressed the wish that Kiwis would learn to cellar wine for a decent period.)

After the starters we enjoyed six little parcels of food with different matched wines. Sewveral of these combinations were really interesting, so fat in the Whipped Goats Cheese and Candied Hazelnuts that filled the miniature icecream cones softened the sharpness of the Sauvignon Blanc. While the salt in the Feta and Olive Herb Salad interestingly softened the oak in the Chardonay, and similarly at the end the Anchovy Cream Sauce that accompanied the Cervena (an unusual but delicious combination) not only somehow made the venison taste more like deer and less like beef, but also made the impressive Vidal Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 somehow tase older and more mature (again perhaps softening the oak?).

Two themes that ran through the evening were balance and age. Both the balance in good wines and that between matched wine and food, but also the way in which most of the fine wines NZ produces that are sold locally are sold and drunk young, often resulting in less balance than the same wines would achieve with a few years in the bottle... I'm sure there is a theological point in there somewhere...

I could rave of hours :) Ruth Pretty is a superb chef, who never let the food take over, but always offered food that was interesting in itself, but which "worked" well with the wine so that both wine and food tasted better together. The evening made a fine balance to the rest of the week so far. Bliss! I wish I had remembered to use my phone to take a photo so that you could drool too ;)

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009
  Homeless in New Orleans: are fraudsters

I have just received an email from the Internet-based booking agency that I used to book my hotel for New Orleans. They have cancelled my booking. I am now homeless for SBL, and have only a week or so to try to find somewhere else. I was stupid I should have checked that the agency was honest :(

All I can do not is warn anyone considering using that they are a bunch of fraudsters! They have had the use of my money for months, multiply that by hundreds of other suckers and they are onto a really good deal.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009
  Jesus as fulfilment of Scripture: Slavery and Spanking
Photo by lucyfrench123
This second of my recast podcasts continues thinking about Jesus as "fulfilment" of the Scriptures, by examininging at one topic that's been agreed universally by the Church universal for decades, and another that, in NZ where a bill whose detractors claimed would criminalise parents spanking children, was in the daily headlines when I recorded the 'cast.

You can download it here.

I'm working with this material again for a possible short series in Daystar an NZ Evangelical monthly, which will be republishing my piece on families in the Bible in their December issue.

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Monday, November 09, 2009
  Art after church
Mère aux enfants à l'orange (1951) by Pablo Picasso from Auckland City

After church yesterday we went to the exhibition at the Auckland Art Gallery. This is usually a chance to wallow or examine one's self in the light of their holdings of NZ artists, including usually some superb works bt Colin MacCahon, like The Fourteen Stations of the Cross [sorry I can't seem to get a ibgger image] that we spent most of our time at on the last visit. But this Sunday (and till Friday but you MUST hurry) there is a preview of the superb collection Auckland has been promised by Julian and Josie Robertso. The five works on show are all really interesting:
  • Mère aux enfants à l'orange (1951) by Pablo Picasso
  • La tasse (1911) by George Braque
  • Espagnole (1922) by Henry Matisse
  • Paysage à l'Estaque (1906) by André Derain
  • Instrument masochiste (1933-34) by Salvador Dalí
One puzzle that I can't solve (though I don't think it is art related) is how I would translate "Mère aux enfants à l'orange. It is not just the shock to a system that remembers the 1970s when Caneton à l'orange (what the French I believe call Duck in Bigarade Sauce) was all the rage, but how to render the pair of "OF THEs" that got me going... still don't trouble yuorself with the French, if you are in Auckland do go see these five masterpieces (when will you get another chance like this?) and while there explore the NZ paintings too!

The cafe does good food, but I can't do a proper review as I am not drinking coffee for the moment :( the water was also good ;)

Friday, November 06, 2009
  Effective communication 3: considers the audience
Photo by jsmjr
Different audiences, even different people in the same audience will respond to different styles, content and delivery.

Avoid words they won't understand - like jargon. Technical terms can be explained.

Kids sadly often look bored in churches (even kids much bigger than this one ;) but only when people persist in talking too long, or over their heads.

Sometimes the invisible audience is the most significant to address!

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Thursday, November 05, 2009
  How does Jesus "fulfill" Scripture
One of the difficult issues for many of my students is the notion of Jesus fulfilling Scripture. The only way they can think of "fulfilment" in this context seems to be predictions and their fulfilment. This means that they have to understand much of the Old Testament as making a series of predictions that would have been total gobbledegook to their first hearers or readers (even assuming that the Holy Spirit had explained enough to the "prophet" so that they could make head or tail of them). This Nostradamus view of prophecy is widespread among Christians. Yet I think it is nonsense.

So, here is the first of two audio posts discussing what it might mean for Jesus to "fulfil" Scripture:

What DOES "fulfil" mean?

PS this post is the first of several over the next few weeks while I will be either or both extremely busy or travelling in which I will repost here things that were first put on my 5 Minute Bible podcast if you first saw them there I apologise for cross-posting after all this time.

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  Effective communication 2: Is concise
Oil Slick? by cyanocorax
Writers and speakers have to earn attention. Readers and listeners need to be rewarded. The more time we expect them to expend the greater that reward should be.

So, effective communication should be as brief as is convenient to communicate the message clearly. This rewards the audience with maximum benefit for their effort.

So, be brief!

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Wednesday, November 04, 2009
  Effective communication 1: Effective communication is clear
Photo by foilman
I subscribe to an email from Steve at Actuate Consulting, which today offered some bullet points on Effective Communication. Since communication is at the heart of most of what I do I thought I'd filter and adapt Steve's ideas into a series of short posts.

In my book the number one has to be: Effective communication is clear. If people do not understand, asking: What did she say? or What did he mean? communication has not occurred. Communication has not occurred unless a sensible message is received, no matter how much you spoke or wrote.

The best aid to clarity is a picky proof-reader. How I wish my students had spouses or friends with the courage to say: I could not follow this bit? What did you mean here? How I wish more biblical scholars and preachers would learn that to say something simply and clearly is better than to say something that sounds profound, but fails to communicate ;)

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  Beginning right
Somehow I missed the link to the JTS Torah Commentary site when Bob first posted the instruction to Enjoy this commentary actually despite the linguistic form it is more of an expectation "you will [I am sure] enjoy this commentary" than an instruction ;) Either way the commentary he points to on the beginning of the beginning of the first pericope of the Bible Parashah B'reishit was well worth enjoying :)

Written with (almost but not quite?) an excess of humour the post takes up Rashi's remarks that the first word of Scripture 'says nothing other than "explain me"!'

I used Rashi's approach in the sermon I preached on Gen 1:1.1-3 (the first three words of Gen 1:1) for the latest CareyMedia video series on "Gospel" (the new series is not available yet, but you can watch one of the previous series on So I loved Rabbi Harris' commentary. In particular I was grateful for his opening paragraph to discover a passage and interpretation I had not noticed before:
There is a verse that I love to invoke whenever I teach about "the poetics of biblical narrative," and it doesn't come from this week's portion (but who's keeping score, anyway?). Instead, it is found in the first extended legal section, Parashat Mishpatim (Exod. 21–24). Loosely translated, this is the text: "In all charges of misunderstanding . . . whereof one party alleges, 'This is it!'—the case of both parties shall come before God" (Exod. 22:8); the Hebrew phrase underlying the words "this is it!" is: כי הוא זה (ki hu zeh). The verse seems to be addressing a case in which no one side has a total claim on the truth; in such a case, then, one is bidden to consider both possibilities.
Do read the rest!

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Tuesday, November 03, 2009
  Home sweet home?
No time to post, busy marking, still...

But to spread my delight, here's a picture looking north from the proposed house site of the property we are buying.

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